Lorna Collins: Covid-19: No one seems to know how to help people with mental health problems during lockdown

Lorna Collins discusses how covid-19 is having drastic effects on our mental health

The current chaos caused by covid-19 is hard for all of us. It has drastically changed our daily routines and our livelihoods. We all have mental health. I am in recovery from a constellation of mental health problems, including an eating disorder, depression, and psychosis.

One of the hardest problems for me, at the moment, is getting food. If I do (somehow) manage to get to the shops, they are crammed full of people. It’s like being on the tube in rush hour. Once I get inside, the shelves are poorly stocked. I can’t always get the food I need or want. It feels like a wasted, traumatic journey. I try to order food online, but there are no delivery spots available for weeks. One alternative would be not to eat anything. My old eating disorder, the real lockdown. 

I won’t succumb to it. I seek advice from clinicians, but no one seems to know what the best course of action is to help people who have mental illness. There is no official policy about covid-19 and patients with eating disorders. All consultants seem to know is that immune systems are compromised when people are underweight or not eating enough, and this will worsen with infection by covid-19. But I am not underweight; does this mean my immune system is not compromised? How is risk evaluated? 

Clinicians’ blanket not-knowing is very disconcerting. In the end, I speak with my Adult Mental Health Team care coordinator on the phone (no face-to-face appointments, now). She advises me to self-isolate and keep away. 

Here I am, trapped in my home, surrounded by things I would rather avoid: hallucinations, boredom, stillness, uncertainty, my body. Thoughts perambulate around the things that apparently only I can hear or see. Odd senses absorb me (I am “responding to stimuli”). I obsess about food, I am hungry or bored, I am anxious about weight gain. I write a list of “things to do” every day, but either I can’t hustle up the energy to do anything, or I finish my list by 7am. What then? I go on YouTube and wonder if I should do yoga or a Hiit exercise classes. I write or paint or cook. 

It is hard not to be transfixed by updates on the news or Twitter. It’s all pretty bleak. Seeking support online, I see that BEAT provide an excellent service for people who have eating disorders. They run a chat room and have useful advice on their website. There are numerous articles and websites which advise how people can look after their mental health, during this crisis, with ideas such as: limiting your time on social media or the news, structuring your day, speaking regularly with your friends, keep mobile, do things you enjoy, try to relax. 

It’s difficult when the things that I usually do to keep myself safe and happy are so abrupted. If anything, I am scared of things not going back to normal. I wonder how to survive in a way of life that feels unsustainable. I suppose this is a first world problem, when I have a roof over my head, and in the end, I have managed to find food, I am eating well. 

My current access to treatment and care is limited to email or possibly telephone. I am grateful for any kind of contact, and suppose this will have to do for now. I must remind myself that the situation is temporary. 

In the meantime, connecting with people you love, being creative, finding ways to express or distract yourself and being compassionate to yourself (to others, to the world), these are essential factors, which will help all of us continue and keep as well as we can be. 

Lorna Collins is a peer support worker with Oxford Health NHSFT, artist, and writer.

Twitter: @sensinglorna